Another month, another wonderful trip. This time, I had the honor and privilege of being accompanied by my youngest daughter Jessica. She is the horse crazed one of the family, so don't be surprised to have horse stuff jumping up during this trip report.
I've gone after the allusive Cataloochee before, but been side tracked a time or two and never made it. After only driving about 50 miles up the road, we see a sign for Camden - 60 miles away. According to Jessica, there is a great tack shop in Camden so our first side trip is started. Will I ever make it to cat?
We go within 10 miles of Congaree NP and it's tempting to stop for a stroll along the boardwalk again as that trip last December is still a vivid memory. But nope, that cat isn't going to get away this time. So on to Camden we go.
At the tack shop, have to try something for fit. Hmmm - maybe another reason for getting the TC. Would look good though, wouldn't it? And be very nice place for me to relax while the kids are busy at the horse show.
After a quick (15 minutes) browse through the store we are on our way again. We go pass this small dam on the Catawba River and thanks to writing this trip report, I had to look up the name. So now, instead of just calling it the Catawba Dam on 97, I know it is the dam for the small Fish Creek Resevoir.
On up the unexciting back roads to Spartanburg where we finally get on the interstate to make so time. Of course, by this time, it's already 5pm and starting to look like I won't be pulling into the cat til after dark. Knowing it's a long gravel road, not looking forward to it so we rethink our plans.
After a discussion, we decide to side step over to Brevard, eat at a restaurant called the "Fish Camp" near the 280/276/64 junction and then grab a campsite at Davidson River (NF). Usually the food and service is very good, but today it wasn't. However, the close proximity to Davidson River made up for it. When checking in, the lady asked if I had ever stayed there before. "Yes" was my answer with a big grin on my face. She started to ask for my name to look up the record when I added "Last time was about 30-35 years ago." She informed me things may have changed a little since then. We took the site she recommended and setup camp.
We had just enough light to take a stroll along the stream and test out the cold water.
Seeing the bridge brought back memories of camping trips when I was the youngest of five camping in our 1969 Franklin 11' camper. I can remember my father driving into the campground across this bridge. That was a long time ago, but I’m so glad that I can continue the tradition with my kids.
Knowing we would be without showers for the next few days, we took advantage of the very nice showers in the campground. Or should I say the sauna from all the steam. Next morning, we took 276 up and over the Blue Ridge Parkway, then down through Waynesville. Within site of I40, we found the turn-off toward the elusive cat-a-loo-chee.
The road into the park starts off as a narrow two lane mountain road and continues getting smaller as you climb out of the valley. Just when it's down to a single lane gravel road that can't get much smaller, you hit the NP boundary and the road opens back up. As you enter Cataloochee Valley, the road actually turns back to asphalt.
After grabbing a campsite (first come), we decide to explore the valley and see if we can find a good spot to see some elk. Once you get near the pastures at the upper end of the valley, the road turns back to gravel and gets narrow. Some of the bridges are at odd angles and only 10’ wide, so while any TC should make it, don’t try it with any type of trailer.
We stopped and visited the Caldwell house (completed 1906) and barn at the lower end of the upper pasture. The old craftsmanship was great to see.
We then moved up to see how far the road went but found it only went to the top end of the pasture with a number of places to pull over and watch the elk. While we were stretching our legs, a pair of volunteers showed up with some displays. Top row is elk antlers, bear skull, black bear fur, brown elk fur. In the drawer from right to left is elk skull, elk jaw bones, boar skull. In the left most section was snake skins, bear scat, bear track casting, and a few other things the volunteers were still learning about. Turns out, it was the first day for the volunteers and they were still learning.
We had about three hours before the elk start showing up so we headed back to camp for some relaxation. About 6pm, we made our way up to the upper pasture and picked out a nice spot near the middle of the upper pasture. Almost immediately, we spotted turkeys followed a little later by a dozen elk.
The day finally came to an end so back to camp for a wonderful relaxing night sleeping with the windows open listening to the bugs and stream. Next morning we planned to attempt a 7.4 mile hike along the Caldwell Trail and Boogerman Loop. The Caldwell Trail starts just above the campground on the main road. The BL has the largest trees on the East Coast. The largest being a 187’ Popular.
Not use to carrying enough water for 4 hours, the packs soon weighed us down and Jessica decided she wanted to go back after 2 miles. So we did manage to do ½ our planned distance and still had a wonderful time without getting sore. Added to my to-do list is start including carrying a pack-back on my exercise walks.
Towards elk time, we headed to the upper end of the pasture to walk the trail from there up the 1-mile to the Woody house (modified to existing in 1910). As soon as we entered the woods, we found several elks grazing.
We made it back to the TC and settle in waiting on the elk. After an hour, we had only seen one, so we moved down near the school house where we had been told there were a bunch. We weren’t disappointed as there were still about 18 elk in the area.
With just enough light left for picture taking, we headed back to camp for our last night in the park. Down by the ranger station, we were treated to the big boys. We were surprised how much antlers they had already grown.
Next morning, we headed west out of the park. Most folks don’t go this way because it is 16 miles of gravel roads but after reading all of the other westerly trip reports, I just had to go exploring. First attempt going down by the Palmer House was blocked by a bridge closed. It wasn’t out, just closed. Seems that the high water from all the rain this year took out two of the temporary braces.
So, we turned around and took the other gravel road. The next bridge is of the same design but was in service. However, there is only a 5-ton weight limit so be forewarned. What a minute, 5 tons, that’s 10,000# which is what we weigh.
On the far side, I find the first Stream Gauge on the Cataloochee Creek.
The next few images are from the drive out. From the Cataloochee Creek, we climbed 2500’ non-stop before cresting the ridge and dropping down the other side for one continuous decent back down 2500’.
We then came across these cute animals. Couldn’t decide if they were alpacas or llamas.
After a quick lunch by the Pigeon River while watching the rafters, we grabbed I40 at exit 451 in TN. This took us past the big slide of 2009 that kept I40 closed til two weeks ago.
With a few more stops for horse stuff along the way, we were back in SC.
Being only 3 hours from home, still only 3:00 on Saturday with nothing of real interest between here and home, we decide to just head on home and have Sunday to relax.
So til next time, thanx for riding along and putting up with all the pics.
Edit: Make sure to pick up a copy of the Cataloochee Auto Tour pamphlet to get a good in-depth description of the buildings in the park.
"However, the close proximity to Davidson River made up for it. When checking in, the lady asked if I had ever stayed there before. "Yes" was my answer with a big grin on my face. She started to ask for my name to look up the record when I added "Last time was about 30-35 years ago." She informed me things may have changed a little since then."
It doesn't look like it has changed much to me - the bridge is still there, the creek is still there, even the trees are still there.
"The next bridge is of the same design but was in service. However, there is only a 5-ton weight limit so be forewarned. What a minute, 5 tons, that’s 10,000# which is what we weigh."
Guess I won't be able to go into Cataloochee that way with my 12,000+ lb rig.
Looks like ya'll had a good trip. Did any of those horse trailers follow you home?
We always enjoy your trips. This one had so many familiar scenes for those of us who grew up in the area. Thanks for the trip down memory lane as well as the encouragement to take our TC to make some new memories.